Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 65

On March 30 in Brussels, the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the European Union’s 27 member countries showed for the first time some cracks in the EU’s common front regarding conflict resolution in Kosovo. The EU collectively, as well as the United States and NATO, seek to finalize Kosovo’s transition to Western-supervised independence.

Brussels also offers Serbia the prospect of European integration if Belgrade overcomes the archaic Greater Serbia nationalist quest to somehow regain Kosovo with its 90% Albanian majority. However, Russia supports Belgrade’s hardliners in order to control Serbia’s foreign policy and separate the country from the EU. Serbian leaders such as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica are rising to the bait: “Russia’s support to Serbia [on Kosovo] is of historic importance. Russia’s support in the U.N. Security Council will help maintain Serbia’s sovereignty” (Interfax, April 1).

Moscow is also trying to unnerve certain European countries by warning that recognition of Kosovo’s independence without Serbian and Russian consent would set a “dangerous precedent” that could work against these countries’ territorial integrity. This Russian argument seems to be having an effect on several European governments.

Thus, Spanish diplomacy seems concerned that a Kosovo “precedent” could become an argument for Basque nationalists to demand secession from Spain. Such a linkage and scenario seem, however, so far fetched as to raise the question of whether the Spanish Socialist government’s bilateral relationship with Russia might not partly explain Madrid’s sudden nod to Moscow’s viewpoint.

Greece and Cyprus also show some sympathy for Russia’s position, their concern being that recognition of Kosovo’s independence would encourage certain countries to recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. In the case of Greece, moreover, a legacy of pan-Orthodox solidarity with Serbia and even with Russia sometimes influences the position of Athens on Balkan issues. Even so, some spokesmen for Russian policy seek to unnerve the Greeks by suggesting that a Kosovo “precedent” might prompt some Muslim countries to recognize Turkish Cyprus (National Interest Online, March 21).

In Slovakia, the existing coalition government includes some nationalist parties harboring irrational fears of Hungarian irredentism within the country and in neighboring Hungary. Thus the Slovak government wants the Kosovo settlement to strengthen, not weaken, the principles of territorial integrity of states and inviolability of existing international borders. Slovakia carries special weight as a member of the current UN Security Council, which is expected to debate a resolution on Kosovo’s status next month.

For similar reasons, the Romanian presidency and government seem concerned by the possible implications of Kosovo’s recognition for Romanian-Hungarian relations in Transylvania. Thus, Romania backs “Serbia’s territorial integrity.” Moreover, Serbia enjoys some traditional sympathies among Romania’s populace and governing class alike. Ukrainian diplomacy also has expressed all along serious misgivings about Kosovo’s independence, out of concern for its possible impact on the Crimea.

These views seem to misread Moscow’s position in a number of ways. First, while opposing secession in Kosovo’s case, ostensibly on the basis of international law, Russia is sponsoring territorial secession and de facto annexation in the post-Soviet conflicts in defiance of international law. Thus, the notion of enlisting Russia to uphold international law through “single-standard” conflict-resolution, in ways that would “set positive precedents,” seems illusory. It also recalls former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze’s futile efforts to commit Russia to the principle of territorial integrity in the case of Georgia, hoping that Russia would have to demonstrate consistency when it was waging war for that same principle in Chechnya. However, Russia persisted with its dual approach to this issue even during that war; and it is even more cynical about such dualism now, when no longer encumbered by the Chechen problem.

In Kosovo’s case, Russia professes to uphold first and foremost the notion that any settlement terms must be accepted by both parties to the conflict (not imposed on one of them) and approved by decision of the U.N. Security Council. This implies a double veto by Serbia and Russia and a deep freeze on settlement, leaving Moscow with plenty of bargaining chips to play through open-ended linkages with other conflicts and other issues.

On one hand, Russia poses as a responsible power by warning that recognition of Kosovo’s independence could destabilize certain European countries through the “precedent” thus created. On the other hand, Russia threatens to exploit itself such a “precedent” by recognizing the post-Soviet secessionist territories — a move that could multiply the selfsame destabilizing potential that Russia claims it wants to defuse.

Thus, insecure or wavering governments that accept the logic of linking Kosovo with other existing or potential conflict situations, hoping thereby for a “model” or “precedent” that could operate in their favor, do so at their peril. Their most effective protection would be to rally behind the U.S., EU, and NATO position that each conflict has its individual characteristics requiring a case-by-case resolution and ruling out any linkages with other conflicts.

Moscow and the post-Soviet secessionist leaderships are indirectly admitting to the unsustainability of their own conflict-resolution proposals based on a Kosovo “precedent.” For example, one of their favorite recent arguments holds that international recognition of an autonomous unit (Kosovo) that existed within a republic (Serbia) that formed a subject of a federation (former Yugoslavia) should open the way for “analogous” recognition of Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. However, the analogy does not hold up because Moldova and Georgia were never federations; Transnistria never formed any kind of unit within Moldova; the three secessionist territories are treated internationally as integral parts of Moldova and Georgia, respectively, from 1991 onward; and both countries effectively hold portions of the secessionist territories.

Moreover, the leaderships of Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh openly speak of the possibility or probability of their territories’ accession to the Russian Federation or Armenia, respectively; whereas the Western-endorsed status of Kosovo explicitly rules out any merger of Kosovo with another country (i.e. Albania). Furthermore, the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia and of Azeris from a large part of Azerbaijan has yet to be reversed; whereas international intervention has successfully reversed the ethnic cleansing of the Albanian majority from Kosovo.

Ultimately, Moscow is making clear that it would hold on to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria irrespective of any outcome in Kosovo. As Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov told the Duma on March 21, Russia would in any case retain its “responsibility” for its citizens or “compatriots” that populate those three territories (Interfax, March 21). Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan quite appropriately refuse to argue with Russia over “precedent”-setting or linkages. The great majority of Western countries similarly decline being drawn into any such discussion with Moscow.

While Spain and Greece seem to lend an ear to Moscow for reasons of their own, it would be risky and naïve for Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine to become entangled in fine-tuning the “right” kind of “precedent” or “model” in Kosovo, instead of adhering to the joint position of the EU, NATO, and the U.S., ruling out any linkage to other situations.

(EUObserver [Brussels], March 26; ATA, March 29; Interfax, March 26-April 2; Rossiiskaya gazeta, March 29; see EDM, March 23, April 2)